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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

Atonement - Pastor John Roekle

June 14, 2020 [Pentecost 2] Romans 3:21-25a,27,28 J.D.Roekle

21But now, completely apart from the law, a righteousness from God has been made known. The Law and the Prophets testify to it. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and over all who believe.

In fact, there is no difference, 23because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God publicly displayed as the atonement seat through faith in his blood.

27What happens to boasting then? It has been eliminated. By what principle—by the principle of works? No, but by the principle of faith. 28For we conclude that a person is justified by faith without the works of the law.

Atonement

Dear Friends in Christ,

This section of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome summarizes the central doctrine or teaching of all of Scripture: justification by grace through faith. Martin Luther once said that this is “the doctrine upon which the Christian church stands for falls.” Luther went on to say: “Where this article is kept pure, there Christianity remains pure and free of sects; where it becomes contaminated, it becomes impossible to protect the church from error and sectarianism.”

Simply put, if we don’t get the teaching of justification by grace through faith right, then it can lead to dire consequences. If we don’t get it straight, it can lead people to hell, instead of to heaven as it is designed to do.

But before we go on, we need to define what we mean by justification by grace through faith. What good are terms if we don’t even understand them?! In order to understand the term, we first need to understand who we are by nature. When we are born, that is. When we come into this world, we are automatically separated from God. There is a divide between us and God because of the sin in our hearts that we have inherited. The sin that has been passed down from generation to generation all the way back from our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Because we are separated from God, we also stand condemned before him. That means if nothing changed, we were on a path that would be permanently separate us from God. Even after we die.

So how do we rectify that? How can we change our path? Well, the truth is, because of our sinfulness, we cannot do it. Because of our sin, we are guilty and therefore we cannot declare ourselves not guilty. We cannot justify ourselves. There is nothing we can do in order to make ourselves innocent. We are sinful.

We need to rely on someone else to change that path for us. That’s where justification comes in. Jesus came to justify us. God declares us innocent because of what Jesus did. This wasn’t because we deserved it; it was because God loves us. And this declaration of innocence before God is ours through faith in what Jesus has done.

Now, what has Jesus done? What is it that we have faith in? That’s where the word for today comes in. Atonement. Atonement helps to teach us what Jesus has done. So, we want to consider what atonement is all about. Simply put, atonement is being made “at one” with God. But how is that possible? What has Jesus done to make that possible?

In order to get a better understanding of atonement, we head back to the Old Testament to discover that truth. In fact, we head back to a special day that the people celebrated year after year. A day that is still marked by Jews even now. It is known as Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.

The Day of Atonement was a day on which everyone was to recognize and be filled with sorrow for their sins. One way that the people were to mark this, was by fasting. No food for the day. Another way was from not doing any work that day.

It was on this day, that high priest did things that he didn’t do on any other day. The high priest who was normally dressed in very ornate clothing, was dressed very simply. On this day he was a simple linen tunic with a sash around the waste and a turban on his head. The reason for this simple clothing was to set the mood or the tone for the day. Instead of the normal ornate clothing he wore as mediator between God and the people, he wore this simple clothing because he would be entering into the very presence of God.

This was the one time a year, that the high priest would be able to enter the Most Holy Place (or Holy of Holies) in the tabernacle or the temple. Inside the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant. On top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat of God. God’s presence was there!

Because God was there and the high priest was sinful, he had to humble himself with what he wore in order to acknowledge his unworthiness to come before the perfect God.

The high priest would then proceed to enter the Most Holy Place four times. The first time he would enter, he would take incense inside. The cloud of smoke created by the incense was designed to cover the mercy seat of God. Sinful people cannot see God and live!

The second time the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place, he would bring a small bowl with blood from a bull he sacrificed. He would take that blood and sprinkle it on the mercy seat of God. The third time he entered the Most Holy Place, he would bring a small bowl of blood from a goat that he sacrificed. He would do the same thing with the goat’s blood as he did with the bull’s blood. He would sprinkle it on the mercy seat of God. The fourth and final time he would enter the Most Holy Place, he would remove the censer with the incense.

The other big thing the high priest would do that day was to take a goat. He then would lay both his hands on the goat’s head, and then he would make confession of Israel’s sins. The goat was then taken out into the wilderness far enough away so that it could never find its way back to camp.

These were the highlights of the day. But what does it all mean? Throughout the course of the year, the things that Israel used for worship would become contaminated by sin. The ritual with the sprinkling of blood in various places showed that the requirement for sin was taking place. Take had occurred and so therefore, everything could be cleansed.

In the case of the goat taken to the wilderness, this was symbolic that their sins had all been taken away from them never to return to harm them.

The Day of Atonement has been called the Good Friday of the Old Testament. Are you starting to see the picture as to why that is? The whole day was designed to point ahead to Christ and what he would do on Good Friday in order to rid us of our sins. In order to atone for our sins.

The blood all symbolizes the blood of Christ Jesus which was shed for our sins. Death is necessary for our sins to be taken away, and Jesus did just that. The high priest was the only one to enter the Most Holy Place. Jesus is like that high priest since he is the only one that could serve as Mediator between us and God. And Jesus is like that goat taken into the wilderness too. That goat has been known as scapegoat. The goat had nothing wrong. The sins of the people were laid on an innocent party. All our sins have been laid on the innocent party, Jesus. He took on the punishment we should have endured! And just as the scapegoat was removed from camp never to return, Jesus took our sins away permanently, never to return and haunt us!

That’s what atonement is all about. It is permanently removing the thing that once divided us from God…namely, sin.

On this side of heaven, we may be asked or even forced to make amends for the things we do wrong. For instance, someone who destroys someone else’s property may be forced to pay a fine to make up for it.

But making amends with God has already taken place. You and I do not need to make amends with God. In fact, it is impossible for us to do so. We cannot atone for our sins. Because Jesus already did! May we rejoice that Jesus atoned for our sins so that God would forgive us and reunite with us. Amen.

The Trinity Is Revealed in Creation - Pastor John Roekle

June 7, 2020 [Holy Trinity] Genesis 1:1-2:3 J.D.Roekle

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

The Trinity Is Revealed in Creation

Dear Friends in Christ,

Have you ever heard the song of a humpback whale? It’s kind of a mysterious sound. Their songs last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, and are repeated for hours at a time. Some biologists speculate that their songs may be related to mating, but the truth is that no one really knows. Besides their songs, there is a lot of mystery and intrigue surrounding these huge, beautiful creatures. They spend 95 percent of their lives in the ocean. And then, without warning, they pull 60,000 pounds up and leap out of the water for unexplainable reasons. My wife and I went whale watching 4 ½ years ago off the coast of Boston and seeing those large creatures in action is mind-blowing. Seeing them close up also give you a feeling of helplessness. Not only are they so much bigger than us. There is so much about whales that we can’t begin to know. So much mystery surrounding them.

Now consider this. If we cannot understand this creature, isn’t it understandable that we will never be able to fully comprehend the Creator? Today, we are drawn back to the creation account itself. And while there is much mystery in the creation account, it does reveal to us some very important things about God. It even reveals to us, in a way, that God is Triune. Three persons in one being. As we look more closely at our Triune God, God will get bigger in our minds. We will seem small in comparison. May we then understand what a good and comforting truth that truly is.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Such a simple verse, but it’s packed full of information for us. The interesting thing about this verse is the fact that God is not introduced as an author might introduce the main character in his book. Instead, the identity of God is just assumed.

What we are reminded of in this is the fact that God is eternal. In order to be there at creation, God already existed. In fact, God had always existed. That’s very different from his creation. In fact, it is here at the beginning that God creates the concept of time. By nature, God is timeless. He isn’t bound by time.

And the fact that God begins time, also reveals another fact about God. God is a God of order. In his orderliness, God created certain heavenly bodies so that there would be order in our days. The sun is out during the day. The moon comes up at night. One complete trip for the earth around the sun indicates one year. This didn’t happen by mistake. This was all very carefully planned by our very orderly God.

Another thing that reveals this order to us is the way in which God developed creation. On the first day, he essentially created all the raw materials. And on the next 5 days, he molded and shaped the universe and in particular, the earth, just the way he wanted it to be.

It is as if God were a sculptor with a lump of clay. At first it doesn’t look like much. But as he goes on it begins to take shape. And by the end of the 6th day, his masterpiece is completed.

In a world where it seems chaos rules, we can be thankful that we have a God of order. Even though many things are out of our control, they are still in the hands of the creator who does things in an orderly way. God knows that we need order in our lives and he provides it for us.

And his orderliness is backed up by his omnipotence. God is almighty. There’s nothing God cannot do. We see that in the word ‘create’. In fact, the word in the original language for ‘create,’ can only refer to God. And the fact that God did his creating work ‘in the beginning’ tells us that he made everything out of nothing.

This wasn’t some kind of hocus pocus magic. This was an act of God’s power. There was nothing. No trees or water. No earth. Not sun, moon, or stars. No universe. Nothing! But then out of nothing, God produced the universe and everything in it. What power! So much power in fact that it is impossible to wrap your brain around it.

God’s power is something that can be of great comfort. Not only does he have the power to create, he has the power to preserve. He even has the power to save us, which he has done.

He saves us by his grace, his undeserved love for us. While we do not see that in the creation account, it does show us that we have a God who cares for his creation. Think of the beautiful landscapes the Almighty Creator paints. The marvelous sunrises and sunsets. The majestic mountains and the vast oceans.

And he has made the entire creation for the sake of us. The crown of his creation is people. And he puts us here not only to admire the scenery. He puts us here to take care of it. And as we do so, he takes care of us, making sure our needs are covered by giving us food and drink. And it isn’t as if he simply gives us bread and water, although that would be enough. No, he doesn’t spare any expense. He provides a wonderful banquet for his creation; his creatures; us.

And as he does this, he reveals even more about himself to us. The Hebrew word for God is ELOHIM. ELOHIM is plural. In God’s name itself we see God beginning to reveal his nature to us. That he reveals himself in more than one person. Three to be exact. ELOHIM is 3 persons. 3 persons in one God.

We have come to understand that God the Father is the one primarily responsible for creation. He is our creator and preserver. But the second verse of Scripture also reveals another person of the Godhead: “…the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”

Like a mother eagle hovers over the nest where her young are, providing for them and protecting them; so also, the Holy Spirit hovers over the infant creation, preserving it, and preparing the universe for what God had in mind for it.

So we see the Father and the Holy Spirit here in the creation account. The Son of God is also there, although he isn’t specifically mentioned in these first two chapters on Genesis. It is the Apostle John in his Gospel that tells us the Son of God is present at creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him everything was made, and without him not one thing was made that has been made.”

And John makes it clear that not only was Jesus there, but he was also active in creation. He chipped in and did his part.

When you look at who God is through the lens of creation, you see certainly a God of mystery. Three in one. One in three. A concept that does not make logical sense. That truth leads to the fact that God is much greater than us. We are tiny by comparison.

And yet, that brings us comfort, doesn’t it?! Think about it this way. When you were a small child, who is it that you go running to when you are crying? Your friend? Not likely. Your brother or sister? Probably not unless they were much, much older than you. You probably went to an adult. Most likely your mom or your dad. Why was that? You knew that they were bigger than you and were capable of helping you with many or most of your problems.

Who do we go running to with our problems when no one around us can solve them? We go to someone much greater than any of us. We go to our Triune God. Our gracious God who began revealing himself in creation. Our gracious God who has stuck with us through thick and thin. Our gracious God who alone has the power to save us and did so when the Son of God, Jesus, rescued us by living and dying for us to wipe away our sins.

So, it’s okay that we can’t comprehend everything about God. We need it to be that way. We can’t figure everything out about our world. The last couple months, and the last couple weeks in particular have shown us that. We need someone who can. We need our Triune God. And he needs to be much greater than us. Amen.

Where Is Jesus Now? - Pastor John Roekle

May 24, 2020 [Ascension] Luke 24:44-53b J.D.Roekle

44He said to them, “These are my words, which I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.”

45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46He said to them, “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49Look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50He led them out as far as the vicinity of Bethany. He lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51And while he was blessing them, he parted from them and was taken up into heaven. 52So they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53They were continually in the temple courts, praising and blessing God. Amen.

Where Is Jesus Now?

Dear Friends in Christ,

A nasty virus seems to rule these days. It seems to dictate our lives in so many ways. It has dictated how we have worshipped over the last two months. It scares people to such a degree that many have been afraid to walk out their doors. It has contributed to over 30 million Americans losing their jobs. It has led to more and more people are feeling isolated and alone. Are we tempted to ask: where is Jesus in all this? I need him now! Where is he?

That’s what makes the festival of the Ascension of our Lord so timely. The Ascension reminds us of exactly where Jesus is. It tells us where we can find him. It communicates to us what Jesus is doing. Jesus hasn’t left us like a man who walks out on his wife and children. No, far from it. Jesus is as active now and involved in people’s lives as when he walked the earth. To see this, let’s look more closely at Jesus’ interaction with his disciples leading up to Ascension and also at his Ascension.

[Jesus] said to them, “These are my words, which I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

As confusing as our times are today, they were even more confusing for the disciples. Jesus the Messiah had come! He lived with them and taught them and did miracles. Everything was good, so it seemed. But then they weren’t so good when Jesus faced growing opposition. Then he was captured by the authorities. Sentenced to dead. And executed on a cross. Their hopes were suddenly dashed.

But wait. Now Jesus was suddenly alive again. What did it all mean? Jesus patiently took the time to explain things to them. He reminded them of what he had told them during those three years. He reminded them that the Bible had spoken about all these things, and that he was to do exactly what the Bible had predicted he would do. And then Jesus helped them by opening up their minds in order to understand what the Bible had said about Jesus.

Where is Jesus? Don’t look to far. Don’t think that you have to go searching for him. He comes to you. He comes to you in the Bible. Just as the disciples could find him on the pages of the Old Testament, you and I can find him in there too. We have the bonus also of finding him in the New Testament.

Just think about how generous Jesus is in making himself know through the Bible. Consider how accessible the Bible is. Maybe you have been give a Bible as a gift, or maybe you have bought one. Even if you don’t have one, you should know that it is rather easy to buy a Bible. Even in these times, you can simply order one online and have it delivered to your home. Even you own a computer, tablet, or phone, there are free Bible translations you can download.

Where is Jesus now? He is as accessible as ever on the pages of the Bible. Spend time with him daily! But some might say, I have a Bible, but I don’t always understand it. Jesus replies to us that not only does he speak through his Word, but he also speaks through other people; through believers.

“He said to them, “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49Look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.””

Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He is not only reminding his disciples of the what of his work. He is giving them the why of his work. Yes, we know that Jesus suffered, died, and rose. But why? Why did he do it? The answer is in the phrase “repentance and forgiveness of sins.” He came to make sure we knew that God is serious when he tells us that we are to keep his commandments perfectly. And that if we stray from them even once, we will find ourselves outside of God’s kingdom looking in. He makes sure that we know that it is impossible to keep his will perfectly. But Jesus also came to win forgiveness of our sins for us. Because he was willing to sacrifice himself in our place, we are now forgiven.

This is the message of the church. To communicate Christ by repentance and forgiveness. Law and Gospel. It is a message that never gets old. It is a message that we need to hear regularly. It is a message that we repeat each time we meet. We hear it as we speak the Confession and Absolution. There are countless hymns that proclaim it. It is in our liturgy songs. In our prayers. In the Scripture lessons and in our sermons.

Where is Jesus now? He is still speaking through the church! Satan himself cannot stop Christ from speaking through those who believe. Satan has tried. Since the time of the disciples, he has tried to silence the church through persecution. And even now through the coronavirus, Satan attempts to silence the church, but the church has been more active than ever through the use of technology. You can hear Jesus speaking through the church almost any time you want through so many different sources. Through websites. Through live streams or recorded services. Through email devotions. Through online Bible studies. Jesus is speaking through the church louder than ever today!

That’s great, you might say. But it still seems as if evil rules the day. It still seems as if there is so much more bad in this world than good. It seems as if Satan has the upper hand in so many ways. For even more reassurance of Jesus’ powerful presence in our world and in our lives, let’s consider Jesus’ Ascension itself. He led them out as far as the vicinity of Bethany. He lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51And while he was blessing them, he parted from them and was taken up into heaven. 52So they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53They were continually in the temple courts, praising and blessing God. Amen.”

Jesus parted from them and was taken up into heaven. The lesson from the book of Acts tells us that a cloud took him out of their sight. Jesus simply disappeared from their sight. The lesson from Ephesians tells us that Jesus was seated at God’s “right hand in the heavenly places.”

This isn’t a place where Jesus is idle. It is actually a place of activity. Activity that is beneficial to you and me. And there is so much Jesus can do from this position, because it is the highest position there is. It is “far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, and above every name that is given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22God also placed all things under his feet and made him head over everything for the church. 23The church is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Jesus is interceding for you and me. Jesus is preparing a place for you and me. Jesus has ultimate power. Jesus rules!

Where is Jesus now? He can be found in his Word. He can also be found speaking through his church. And he can be found ruling over his world with his ultimate power. One day we will see him face to face. In the meantime, we can count on the ascended Lord, no matter what we are going through. Amen.